Pushing the Pen
By SAYMOUKDA VONGSAY
AAP staff writer
An interview with whom Governor David A. Paterson and the State of New York has honored for his “legacy of leadership to the Asian American community and the Empire State” in May 2010, Taiyo Na is a singer, songwriter, MC and producer.
Taiyo has studied at the world renown Robert X. Modica’s Acting Studio at Carnegie Hall, has dropped two albums Love is Growth (2008) and Home: Word (2010) a collaborative sonic tome with California-based Hip Hop duo Magnetic North, and has performed with Maya Angelou and Janice Mirikitani before he was of legal drinking age.
Taiyo was the Artistic Director of the critically acclaimed Sulu Series at the Bowery Poetry Club with sister-Sulu Series’ in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. The Sulu Artists Network is a monthly showcase of emerging and established Asian American artists in the nation and under the direction of Na, five years strong from September 2005 to 2010, New York’s Sulu without a doubt, was an incubator and rite of passage for hundreds of APIA artists.
Back in 2009, I met Taiyo for the first time at one of the most bittersweet chapters of my spoken word career, as a guest feature at the final Sulu Series in New York. With all that he has accomplished and the infrastructure that he has helped build, Na remains to be one of the most humble creatures I’ve gotten to know.
Peep the script.
Vongsay: In the form of a haiku/senyru, tell us about yourself.
Taiyo Na: whatever the fuck/ and wherever it may be/ give it your whole heart
V: What is the future of your discipline? Where is it headed?
TN: I think a lot of artists, whether they be musicians or film people, are having to think of making art for purposes other than financially supporting themselves through it because that’s just becoming less and less a reality everyday. It puts people in the position of having to sell products that are a larger distance away from the original intention of their art, and it’s also putting people in the position of doing whatever it is you have to do to make the art you want and believe in. I’m more interested in the latter, and people doing the latter, where they’re making art not to make money, but for the integrity of the art itself, and then good things coming from that. That sounds so cliché, but maybe saying stuff like this always sounds cliché because it’s funny. It’s comedic because the rules never change, and some never learn. It happens with every generation, no matter what, where the dishonest get weeded out from the real.
V: What else do you wield with your hands other than a pen?
TN: That’s not a classy question… Um, other than a writing utensil, I like using guitars, paintbrushes, knives, spatulas and shovels.
V: Where is your happy place?
TN: Somewhere low-key, quiet, close to nature.
V: In the spirit of ‘wait 20 minutes before swimming,’ what should a writer NOT do before their pen hits the paper?
TN: That’s a nice phrase I haven’t heard applied to writing. I’ve heard of the “waiting 24 hours rule” before making an important decision, and it reminds me of that, but yeah, I do instinctively wait 20 minutes or so before committing something down to paper or recording. Like when a song idea comes, a melody and a lyric, I usually see if it sticks around for a while, as if it were a mosquito. I’ll try and shoo it away at first because these ideas usually come when I’m doing something completely unrelated, but if I find that it comes back again and again, and it won’t leave me alone, it’s usually a sign I have to kill that shit.
V: Besides other writers, what influences your work?
TN: Anything artistic: painters, visual artists, films, plays, actors, comedians, certain TV shows, great cooking, wine, good company, nature-type things.
V: What has been your best work yet?
TN: I don’t really have personal favorites, but in terms of its impact on people, the song and music videos to “Lovely to Me (Immigrant Mother)” and “Fukushima” were and continue to be big, or particularly meaningful to people.
To learn more about Taiyo Na and his work, visit www.taiyona.com.
Vongsay is a recipient of the Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry and a Jerome/Mu Performing Arts New Eyes Theater Fellow. Her play, Kung Fu Zombies vs Cannibals, will be staged at Dreamland Arts in Saint Paul in December. She lives to write and dreams to fight zombies.